By Reagin von Lehe for The Island Eye News
As the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to rise in South Carolina, law enforcement officers faced and passed their first major test of the holiday season in their efforts to convince residents and tourists to practice social distancing on the Charleston area’s beaches.
During Memorial Day weekend, 48,372 vehicles crossed the Isle of Palms Connector, according to Isle of Palms Police Chief Kevin Cornett. The chief pointed out that those numbers were around 10,000 less than normal for the holiday that traditionally opens the summer season but still significantly higher than during non-holiday weekends.
“It was typical Memorial Day traffic,” Cornett said. “The reality is these stats are very similar to what they are every Memorial Day weekend.”
Isle of Palms police had help maintaining control of the crowds at the beach from other law enforcement entities. The Charleston County Sheriff’s Department sent four deputies to the island, while the Mount Pleasant Police Department assisted with traffic control.
With around 15 police officers on duty at once, those handling beach patrol were responsible for alcohol and drug regulation as well as for enforcing social distancing among
beach goers. Cornett pointed out that most people were following the rules.
“For the most part they were,” the chief said. “There were a few clusters here and there that were not. We would go make contact with them and tell them to spread out.”
Deputies and beach patrol officers gave out around 150 citations per day each, issuing a total of around 1,000 parking tickets and also citing four people for weapons charges and around 50 for alcohol- and drug-related activities.
Isle of Palms Mayor Jimmy Carroll said the beach crowd was well-managed and respectful and that the island’s public safety personnel worked nonstop to protect the safety and wellbeing of residents and visitors.
“It’s something we’ve seen every Memorial Day,” Carroll said. “We’re going to see it on the Fourth of July and we’re going to see it on Labor Day.”
As for the rest of the summer, IOP officials are working to maintain public safety and help stem the spread of COVID-19. As a result, the island’s Fourth of July fireworks show has been canceled for the first time for a reason other than weather.
“We’re still in this coronavirus pandemic, so why create this potential for a disaster?” Carroll asked.